- They are Reptiles.
Yeah, duh! Many of you guys might be aware of this but for those of you who are not, all tortoises, turtles and terrapins are reptiles. That sounds like a no-brainer, until you realize that what it really means is that they are grouped along with animals who have little or no resemblance with them such as snakes, lizards, crocodiles and birds (birds are dinosaurs, but more on that later). They are very, very different from amphibians.
Yeah that’s our Club. You ain’t invited.
- TORTOISES and TURTLES are NOT the same.
Tortoises are land-dwelling reptiles that have round and stumpy feet with toes which have evolved for walking on land. They can’t swim. If you throw a tortoise into water, it would probably drown coz it can’t swim. Turtles, however, dwell mostly in water and have flippers or webbed feet apt for swimming. Sea turtles like the Olive Ridley have streamlined bodies and long flipper-type feet that let them swim over long distances in the ocean. Terrapins are small turtles that live in swampy areas near fresh and brackish water sources but dwell both on land and water.
Tortoise toes are made to walk on land.
Turtles’ flipper-type limbs are made to swim in water.
- They have got tails!
That’s right baby – they have small tails. You hear tortoise and a round convex slow moving grumpy disinterested animal pops up in your mind. How could that round thing have a tail? Oh but it has got one – like all reptiles. Female tortoises generally have smaller tails compared to their male counterparts.
Get off my ass, you PERV!!!
Tortoises have extremely small brains relative to their body mass and can apparently live without them. As barbarous and horrible it sounds, so called ‘scientists’ have actually cut off the heads of tortoises and they have lived for days. The brains have perhaps evolved to be smaller coz tortoises don’t need them as much – their hard protective shells means they don’t have to carry out fast reflexes or complex predator-avoidance strategies – thus diminishing the need for a complex large brain.
Do they live longer coz they have smaller brains? If proved right, that would be really awesome. The two factors might not be linked – but seems probable. Stress kills – so less of brain => less stress => happy & long life (pun intended). But I am actually hoping that scientists do find a correlation – and then the next time someone asks you the secret for a long healthy life, tell them – ‘Well, maybe you just need to stop using your brains for a while!’
- The SHELL is indispensable – They can’t crawl out of their shells. And yes they can feel all the ‘touching n rubbing’!
Let’s be frank – the shell of a tortoise is its most distinctive characteristic – it’s the essence – a tortoise without its shell is not a tortoise. The shells of tortoises and turtles are developed as part of their ribs and skin and if you forcibly rip apart the shell of a tortoise, you would kill it. It is as integral a part of their bodies as the skin and bones in humans.
That’s me, sans myself!
Turtles can retract their heads inside their shells, either backwards or sideways. Turtle shells weigh less compared to those of tortoises since they need to stay afloat and swim in water – with heavy shells the buoyant force will be so less that they would just sink.
These shells have an inner layer of bony plates covered by an outer layer of horny shields called scutes. The growth rings on the scutes can be used to estimate the approximate age of a tortoise.
Quite unknown to most people, the shell is present not just on the upper part of the tortoise body but extends to the lower part as well, with the lower shell and upper shell being known as the Plastron and Carapace respectively.
Interestingly enough, these lifeless-looking shells have nerve endings, so tortoises and turtles can sense you touching or patting their shells, much the same way as you can sense someone touching your fingernails. Interesting, hun?
- Tortoises and Turtles are Amniotes.
Being amniotes means they can’t lay eggs underwater. This means although sea turtles rarely leave ocean during their lifetime, they do have to come ashore to lay their eggs. Some species, such as the Olive Ridley sea turtle, have a homing characteristic, in the sense that the females return to the same shore where they were born in order to lay their eggs.
Those eggs look pretty darn rough
Image Source: http://www.primaryschoolpoems.com/#/tortoise/4550777217
- They dig burrows.
Because tortoises and turtles are cold-blooded which is a pretty common thing in reptiles, their body temperatures change according to the changes in ambient temperature. They are ectotherms – which means their internal heat sources have negligible effect, if any, in controlling their body temperature. So in order to maintain their body temperature, tortoises in dry hot habitats can dig burrows to remain cool underground, and turtles in cold temperatures can burrow into the mud to stay warm. Female tortoises also dig burrows for nesting.
Watch this video of an African Spur-thighed Tortoise Digging a Burrow. Boy it’s throwing out the sand like hell… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OswQqfPhdA
- Keep em going:
Tortoises have one of the longest life-spans of all living organisms, with many individuals reported to have lived past 150 years. Unlike most other animals, the organs of a tortoise does not break down or become less efficient over time, prompting researchers to look for longevity genes in their genome.
Beat it Dude, I m gonna be living long after you are gone!
- Going Teeth-less
As evidence suggests, during the course of evolution, turtles lost their teeth about 150-200 million years ago. How does that happen? I mean, didn’t they have any use for them any more? Anyway, they use their jaws (which are covered with horny ridges) to chew food. Unlike other reptiles, tortoises can’t catch their prey by ejecting their tongues out in the air.
Can you see my teeth bro?
Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/phws/4093609053
- Turtles can’t breathe underwater
Although they live in oceans, turtles must surface in regular intervals (just like whales) in order to breathe air. Some turtles, however, have apparently developed mechanisms to take up dissolved oxygen from water through special tissues and structures, much like gills in fishes.
Lets get some fresh air
- The Ladies are HOT!
In some species, the ambient temperature determines whether the egg will develop into a male or a female turtle. Higher temperature generally leads to a female being born, coz, well, the ladies are pretty hot 😀
- Home Alone
There are no known species of turtles in which the mother comes to care for her babies during or after the hatching. After the shell breaks, the hatchlings are all alone and extremely vulnerable to predators, completely at the mercy of nature. As soon as they pop out of the egg, they start moving towards the sea, much like programmed robots. Unfortunately, owing to their vulnerability, most are eaten by predators, both on land and in sea, and in some species as low as 1 out of 1000 actually survives to be an adult.
Turtle hatchlings marching towards the sea, their home.
- Barren Antarctica
Like many species of animals, turtles and tortoises are found on all continents except Antarctica. Interestingly, tortoises are not natively found in Australia whereas turtles are.
- The Big Guns and the Baby Boys
Tortoises can vary a lot when it comes to size – ranging from species of giant tortoises such as the Galapagos Giant Tortoise that can grow up to 1.3 m and weigh more than 400 kg to very small-sized species such as the Speckled Tortoise whose adult individuals would fit easily in your palm.
Most Giant Tortoises went extinct at around the same time as the appearance of man, and it is possible that the early humans used to hunt them for food.
How they met – Hello, Big Ben. Hello, Tiny Tim.
- They don’t Breathe Like We Do!
They don’t even breathe like other reptiles do. Reason? That big-ass dome-shaped shell over their bodies. Because of the heavy shell, a simple expansion and contraction of ribs is not possible in case of tortoises. To solve this, they have evolved two different patterns of breathing.
They pull air into their mouths and push it into their lungs via oscillations of the floor of the throat. Secondly, when the abdominal muscles that cover the posterior opening of the shell contract, the internal volume of the shell increases, drawing air into the lungs, allowing these muscles to function in much the same way as the mammalian diaphragm. (Source: Wikipedia)
Oh yeah, I am gonna bang that…
Many species of tortoises and turtles all around the world are endangered today, mostly due to habitat destruction owing to anthropogenic activities. It’s our collective responsibility to help conserve the remaining members of these wonderful but highly vulnerable reptiles. Reptiles are in fact some of the oldest animals to be still living, and that’s really something to be proud of. They have been hardy and versatile and have seen the highs and lows of so much of earth history. Tortoises even look like the creatures from some old creepy book with their rough texture and scales and disinterested silent-evil eyes. They have within them a piece of the earth’s history that can never be regained if they are gone. Help create awareness and do every bit you can to help save these awesome creatures.
Hope you liked the post. Your comments are most welcome 🙂
Until next time, goodbye and take care